Ecobank May End Battle With Ex-CEO Tanoh Through Settlement

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Pan-African lender Ecobank Transnational Inc. said it may end its battle against former Chief Executive Officer Thierry Tanoh through an out-of-court settlement.

The bank may seek an agreement with Tanoh this year over damages exceeding $35 million awarded by West African courts against his former employer, current Ecobank CEO Albert Essien said Wednesday in an interview in Cape Town at the World Economic Forum on Africa.

“Although the court process will go on, we will ultimately settle amicably,” Essien said. “I cannot stop the court process till we have a settlement. Both options will for now be pursued.”

A commercial court in Ivory Coast last month ordered Ecobank’s local unit to pay Tanoh 8.2 billion CFA francs ($14 million). That was on top of $22.5 million Tanoh was awarded in January and February by courts in Ivory Coast and Togo. A London court blocked those two rulings in April, a judgment Tanoh’s lawyer said he would challenge.

Tanoh left Lome, Togo-based ETI, as the bank is known, more than a year ago after regulators investigated allegations of fraud and poor governance while he was CEO. He denied wrongdoing and took the bank to court for wrongful termination and defamation. ETI says Tanoh’s contract was based on British law and that the two West African courts have no jurisdiction.

While the two sides’ legal teams haven’t discussed a settlement, Tanoh met with senior Ecobank staff in Ivory Coast last week during the African Development Bank’s annual meetings, Soualiho Diomande, Tanoh’s attorney, said by phone on Wednesday. Tanoh didn’t respond to a text message to his mobile phone requesting comment.

Nigerian Sale

ETI will sell a stake in Ecobank Nigeria Ltd. by the end of 2015 to boost the unit’s capital, Essien said in Wednesday’s interview. Ecobank Nigeria is ETI’s biggest subsidiary with $9.4 billion of assets.

ETI, whose largest shareholders are Johannesburg-based Nedbank Group Ltd. and Qatar National Bank SAQ, owns all of Ecobank Nigeria.

“It will be up to Ecobank’s shareholders if they want to buy equity in the Nigerian business,” he said.

Essien will step down this year, because he has reached the bank’s mandatory retirement age. A successor will be named this month, he said. ETI is due to hold an annual general meeting on June 19 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The retirement age for all Ecobank staff is 60, Richard Uku, a spokesman for the bank, said by phone from Lome. Essien turned 60 last month.

Shares of ETI, which are traded in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana, advanced 0.8 percent to 21.99 naira by the close in Lagos.

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